From the desk of WFA president Julaine Appling:
“Just get government out of marriage. It doesn’t have any business in it anyway.” I hear that from people pretty often, and I get the frustration they are expressing. Government has a real penchant for messing up just about everything it gets involved with. However, this approach of making marriage in the United States a strictly religious or personal matter between the people in the marriage betrays a lack of understanding about government in general and a lack of understanding about why government is and should be involved with marriage.
As a beginning point, we need to remember that government is not inherently evil. Civil government is one of the three institutions God ordained for His glory and mankind’s good. In chronological order, those institutions are marriage and family, government and the church. While designed by an all-wise God, each institution is comprised of and in a sense run by fallen human beings. Talk about messing things up. Humans have done a good job of just that in each of these three institutions. Nevertheless, none of these institutions is evil because our wise God conceived, ordered, and ordained them.
God designed government to punish evil and to allow the righteous to live peaceful, God-fearing lives. As such, government has a very defined and very strategic role. Part of its role is to enact and enforce rules and laws that punish evil and promote peaceful living.
Obviously, however, the human element in government can be evil. In the representative Republic that we have been blessed with, the burden for making government better and having fewer evil decisions rests squarely on “we the people.” We are the ones who elect those who represent us and make the laws under which we live. If we want better government, then we need to elect better people.
The next thing to think about is the principle that law follows culture. In other words, changes in the law are made only after the culture has shifted enough to demand or tolerate the changes. In the area of marriage, this is especially true. In 2000, When Vermont legalized civil unions that were exactly like marriage, it seemed shocking to most of us. But it happened only after at least 20 years of homosexual activists paving the way in the general culture. The bottom line is if we want better laws from the government we have, we as Christians need to exert more influence over our culture.
So why should government care about and be involved with marriage at all? Government is not in the love and romance business. It is not—or should not be—interested in legalizing so-called “loving and committed” relationships between or among adults. What government is interested in is the next generation because the next generation is truly the future of any society. How they grow up, how they are educated, the values they espouse, the traditions they honor, the work ethic they learn determines the quality of the future workforce, taxpayers, and leaders in every area of society.
Government cares about and appropriately proscribes marriage because government knows children need both a mother and a father in order to have the very best opportunity to grow up to become productive, contributing citizens. That is a legitimate and appropriate government concern within the God-given bounds of government. Legalizing and promoting any relationship other than one man and one woman within marriage puts government in the ridiculous position of being in the “love and commitment” business—and out of the business of protecting the next generation.
Passing laws within a society that reasonably proscribe and promote marriage between a man and a woman is good for everyone. However, government does not have the right to redefine, reshape, reconstitute, or recreate the institution of marriage. Government didn’t create marriage; God did. Changing in any way the essentials of God’s plan for marriage, meaning one man and one woman for life, is outside the legitimate purview of this institution and spells disaster.
It is unrealistic and perhaps even quite dangerous to cut government out of marriage. Marriage, while a private relationship between two people of the opposite sex, has a very real public good—especially as it relates to children. Imagine if every religious group or even just the two people involved in the marriage were able to determine the age, the sex, the conditions in general that constitute a valid marriage. An everyone-does-that-which-is-right-in-his-own-eyes approach to marriage is fraught with problems.
The burden for keeping government doing the right thing as it relates to marriage is on you and me. Christians must remember that government and marriage are God’s idea. We must model good marriages, find and elect good people to office, and exert positive influence on our culture. When we do all of this, fewer people will have any reason to think government should stay out of the marriage business.